How late is too late to start/end, school? Sanislo challenges plan

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Saving money on school buses may seem like a way to save money without affecting what happens inside school buildings, but Sanislo Elementary parents and staffers beg to differ.

Monday night they managed to snag an hour-plus of Seattle School Board president Steve Sundquist‘s time to make their case against a planned transportation schedule that would have Sanislo students start school at 9:35 am.

They’re not the only school facing changes (as reported here week before last) – Roxhill, Lafayette, and Concord also are on the list for bus-arrival times that would push the starting bell back to 9:30 or later.

Sundquist, who agreed to the meeting earlier in the day, squeezing it into what he described as an already meeting-laden schedule, stressed that he wasn’t coming with answers. In fact, he opened with, “I want to make sure I understand the problem.”

Some of the 50 or so people packed into Sanislo’s library did their best to help with that.

The later school starts, the less likely it is that parents will be able to go in and spend some time in the classroom in the morning, a common time for volunteering.

Sanislo PTA co-president Matt Knannlein recalled the days when he would notice the “roundabout parents” – those that just dropped their kids off outside and quickly circled back away from the school – and think, we have to get them in here and involved.

Now, with kids starting school well past 9 am, he finds himself a “roundabout parent” more often than not.

A new start time after 9:30 am would be a full hour later than where it was just a few years back, Sundquist was told. And the resulting end time – putting kids on buses home at 3:45 – would mean in winter, they would arrive home in the dark. “We don’t want second-graders walking home in the dark,” declared PTA co-president Gillian Allen-White. “That’s a huge part of what has us shaken about this … it’s put us in an untenable position.”

On the front end of the day, the question was, how could parents get to their jobs on time if their children wouldn’t even be allowed into the school building until well after 9 am, the time when many workdays begin?

For Sundquist’s part, he tried to help the parents and staffers – which included Sanislo president Ernie Seevers – understand just how dire the money situation for the district. “We had to cut this winter, again, $35 million … and the Legislature may be going the wrong way [in terms of school funding] and we may have to cut even more.”

The transportation budget for the district itself is $20 million, and a contract associated with it is on the agenda for Wednesday night’s board meeting, though the bus pickup/dropoff times – which determine the schools’ bell times – does not appear to be attached to it. They were in a document considered by the board a few months back, minus the proposed times for Denny International Middle School and Chief Sealth International High School, which were revealed by their principals at a joint meeting of their PTSAs last week to discuss logistics of their impending co-location (WSB coverage here).

Last night, Sundquist reminded the Sanislo group that when he was elected three and a half years ago, “we had a system … in which schools set their own bell times and the transportation system followed along. That was also part of the choice system, driving a huge, huge transportation expenditure.”

Now, after going through other big changes including a switch to “neighborhood school” assignments instead of “choice,” the district tries to maximize the use of each bus, with at least two routes each morning and afternoon, as well as making it more difficult for students to qualify for transportation.

Sundquist agreed with one concern voiced: The backwardness of middle/high schools getting the early start and elementary schools generally the late start, when the older/younger age groups’ body clocks tend to run the opposite way. Maybe in the future, he suggested, they would be able to align the school schedules more to those body clocks. That would require not just bus-schedule changes but also negotiations with Seattle Parks regarding athletic scheduling, Sundquist noted.

But for now, “we can’t just literally go out and flip a switch and make this happen,” he said. Nor can he necessarily order some quick move to address the Sanislo concerns. He said he had taken some action since concerned parents showed up at his community chat last Saturday; on Sunday, he said, he had called interim superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield and asked her “to have someone start to look into it … So research is being done,” he assured, while reminding, again, that the district’s money problem still loomed large.

He was asked to be sure that research included what schools the Sanislo buses also would be serving, as some thought it was Denny, which would mean a 2-hour gap between its 7:40 am start time and Sanislo’s.

Changing the bus times might not be possible, Sundquist suggested, going on to wonder, “could something be worked out to take care of kids (dropped off early) without forcing people to pay for child care they can’t afford?”

Staffers wouldn’t just be hanging around and available to keep an eye on them, it was noted in response. Certificated staff “is bound by the same contract and same hours” as teachers are, said one staffer.

From start times to budget savings, this was a meeting when there was a number around almost every turn. Sundquist had not come equipped with a sheaf of them, and that drew criticism from one meeting participant. He fired back that “this is a volunteer job … I’m working about 50 hours a week as a board member right now … dealing with the media … asking for support from a central office which is depleted; we just fired 100 people in March. One of the things you are looking at is a system in trauma, which is not being responsive to you and not always to me either. I’m in meetings most of the day and can’t keep up with all the requests for data.”

Allen-White said she had been asking for the “same data” for 2 1/2 years and had never received it.

Through a translator, one parent asked a poignant question, whether the board members considered how exciting it is for kids to come to school in the morning, as early as possible, once they’re up – excitement that would be dampened by the hours that would elapse before a 9:35 start time.

Sundquist stepped closer to the table with the translator and said, almost gently, “I know you might not believe the School Board or Central Administration care about the kids. Actually, that’s why they (we) come to do this work. But they are trying to do it on a budget that they are being asked to meet – by law, we have to balance the budget. The only reason I continue to do the work is because there are kids who will benefit if we do it as well as we can.”

One woman, unswayed, said, “I feel like the school district keeps making bad situations worse.”

Another offered hope that maybe district transportation director Tom Bishop would change his mind: “I want to hear that they looked at this (situation).” Their intense concern demanded it, parent Lisa Keith said: “When you have this many people show up for a meeting on short notice … With a two-hour notice … we got 50 people in a room.”

Before Sundquist had to leave for his next meeting, someone asked pointedly, “So what are the chances of change?”

His reply: “I don’t know, because I haven’t seen the exact plan” – which schools are paired with Sanislo to arrive at the bus schedule that led to the 9:35 start time. He promised to let Allen-White know what he finds out.

After Sundquist left, principal Seevers invited anyone interested to stay and look at the schedule he had roughed out if the new times don’t change. By contract, teachers are supposed to have a half-hour of prep before children come in, so that would start at 9 am, he said; buses would arrive at 9:15, which is when breakfast service would begin – it was noted that about half of Sanislo’s students, around 150, eat breakfast at school. Classes would start at 9:35, with lunch/lunch recess time starting at 12:30 pm, and the end-of-day bell at 3:40.

19 Replies to "How late is too late to start/end, school? Sanislo challenges plan"

  • GAW May 17, 2011 (7:08 am)

    If the budget savings from this staggered transportation plan are so significant, why is it that NO ONE knows how much has been saved? If I were part of the school district, I would be crowing about saving taxpayers lots and lots of money, not shuffling the paperwork and substituting sincere looks for real figures. Show us the money! Surely the last round of financial disasters and Goodloe-Johnson’s ouster has earned the public the right to ask for evidence instead of calming reassurances.

  • fj May 17, 2011 (8:36 am)

    boo hoo. a 9:30 start time? That is what Schmitz is now. yes, it sucks. but i’ll be glad if they can spread around the pain-in-the-butt times and give us a chance to start at a normal time next year.

  • DW May 17, 2011 (8:37 am)

    Validates my decision to send my son to private school…

  • MGK May 17, 2011 (8:39 am)

    The families in Sanislo’s 5th grade have had a high level of school involvement over the years. It’s no coincidence that we all got to know each other during the final year of our 8:25 bell time, which allowed many more parents the breathing room to stay at school for a few minutes before heading off to work. By the end of that year, a majority of us knew the other kids and parents, and — unsurprisingly — formed the relationships you need for an involved and supportive school community. It’s a lot harder to find parents at school in the morning these days.

  • MGK May 17, 2011 (8:40 am)

    @DW — I’m betting you probably didn’t need much for that “validation.”

  • vs May 17, 2011 (9:02 am)

    jk-Schmitz current start time is 9:20, Sanislo current start time is 9:25. Please don’t treat it like a zero sum game– one school doesn’t win because other communities lose– maybe we’d all be better off if the district listened to what works for real families.

  • matht May 17, 2011 (9:12 am)

    Many elementary kids are “unteachable” after 1:30 or so even with today’s start times. We are wasting all that morning alert time by keeping the kids out until after 9:30am!

  • nic May 17, 2011 (10:38 am)

    Thank you to the school board members who volunteer a tremendous amount of hours to do what they can to try and help our kids. They do this knowing full well not everyone is going to be happy at the same time, no matter what the end results. I know I sure couldn’t do it. I hope the start & end times work out positively for the majority. That’s the best we can ask for.

  • Ben May 17, 2011 (10:50 am)

    I second vs’s message and applaud the reasonable tone, something I have a hard time maintaining after an uninformed and dismissive response like “boo hoo.” This should not be an “us vs. them” battle. This should be about the best decisions for all the kids, no matter where they are going to school, Sanislo, Schmitz Park, public or private. (Don’t get me started on the short sightedness of those with the means to afford private school abandoning the public schools—good luck to the next generation maintaining a healthy democracy without them.) I do not know what the late start has meant for Schmitz Park families this year but, as vs points out, Sanislo has already gone through a year with a 9:25 start. What was not mentioned in the blog was the growing number of Sanislo kids getting dropped off a full hour before school starts, leaving them unsupervised, wet and cold (Sanislo’s structure offers little outside shelter) while they wait for the doors to open. These parents are left no choice as they work jobs without the flexibility of a late start to the work day and do not compensate them well enough so they can afford child care from 8:30 to 9:30. This combined with 5 year old kids making their way home in the dark at the end of the day makes this a safety issue, not a case of “boo hoo.” Apparently the district and board feels this is a fair price to pay so that our older children’s ability to play after school sports is not jeopardized. I suspect that, if “it sucks” is a fair representation of the impact at Schmitz Park, the problem is not as acute at Schmitz.

  • PJ May 17, 2011 (11:34 am)

    The late start times for elementary students is extremely undesirable for reasons mentioned above: this younger set is more alert earlier in the day than high school kids, parent volunteerism is absolutely affected, and the drop-off and scurry-to-work trend is real and unfortunate. The board and district needs to recognize the importance of community and how grade school student performance is affected by start times later than 9am. Sanislo, Lafayette, Schmitz Park… no one wants late start times!

  • juju May 17, 2011 (11:52 am)

    at fj: I am sure you will be glad if they can spread around the start times for next year and hopefully adjust the start time at Schmitz to a normal and reasonable time…so instead of insulting the people who are working on behalf of the parents with this sentiment, perhaps you should try supporting them, rather than insulting them with a comment that starts out with “boo hoo.” This isn’t an issue of school vs school, and as someone who was at the meeting last night, I can say that it wasn’t represented as that. You would know that if you were there, but apparently, making snarky comments on the blog was more important.

  • chas redmond May 17, 2011 (3:02 pm)

    Steve Sundquist commented “this is a volunteer job … I’m working about 50 hours a week as a board member right now.” I would point out that $4800 or so pay a year, though not exactly a living wage, is actually real money so it’s a volunteer job with some financial recompense – which is different from those who volunteer their time freely. Not objecting to Steve’s comment, just pointing out that the word volunteer usually means no funds are transferred.

  • twicksea May 17, 2011 (3:02 pm)

    I sympathize with the budget situation and the difficult job of being a Seattle School District administrator or board member, but GAW’S first comment begs to be answered by the SSD. IF this is driven by cost savings, what is the bottom line? Just how much savings is being generated? How much savings makes it acceptable to develop a school schedule totally incompatible for families with working parents that requires families to arrange for both before and after school child care and supervision, or leaving your elementary aged school kid alone outside a not yet opened school? How much savings justifies putting elementary kids at risk, disenfranchising parents from participating in the public schools system, pushing anyone with the means to do so to enroll in private schools, and delaying breakfast for hungry children whose first meal of the day comes at school? How much is the price to void logic, compassion and common sense?

    • WSB May 17, 2011 (3:44 pm)

      You all may have found this already but this is the district’s news release after the transportation plan was changed in February.
      It cites the overall $4 million savings from the changes for next year. – TR
      PS to Chas’s point – Steve Sundquist may have used a qualifier such as “this is BASICALLY a volunteer …” that I did not include in my quote; I certainly don’t intend this to be read as if he were trying to hide the fact there is a stipend.

  • KMM May 17, 2011 (3:20 pm)

    It would be nice if we didn’t waste space addressing the thoughtless snarky comments. Part of being involved with a community invested in education is committing time and energy to problem solving. How can we find out what the transportation savings is in making select elementary schools have a later start time? Who is the responsible public school staff member coming up with the transportation numbers justifying these later start times? Who is double checking the analysis of these numbers? Isn’t this information accessible public information? I don’t think it’s a committee coming up with this transportation plan. I’m curious to see who is coming up with what numbers. Any ideas? If Steve Sundquist doesn’t want us wasting his volunteer hours with questions he is not prepared to answer, then let us ask someone else.

  • Melissa Westbrook May 17, 2011 (9:24 pm)

    If you can find out the savings, good luck. Parents at the Save Seattle Schools blog have been asking that question for years.

    We were also told if we closed schools we would save money. How much did we save and where did it go? Who knows?

    I believe nearly every Director refused their $4800 stipend this year because of the budget.

  • KMM May 18, 2011 (8:38 am)

    So Tom Bishop is the SPS Transportation Manager and says with his plan the district is saving $4 million. He also said some elementary schools would start five minutes earlier or later.

    This feels too much like the tail wagging the dog. How many other elementary schools in this state have such late start times? Tom Bishop comes to us with experience from the Riverview School District (Carnation, WA) were there are three elementary schools. There are 58 public elementary schools in Seattle. All I’m suggesting is that more scrutiny is required. If it’s about the numbers, then let’s see the numbers.

  • bsmomma May 18, 2011 (12:54 pm)

    And I was freaking out about how was I going to work full time and get my child to and from school without totally breaking myself…….with a 9:00 start time?! Dang. I am seriously freaking out about Kindergarten! It’s going to cost me more to send my daughter to Kindergarten at a Public school + before & after school care than it cost to send her to daycare. So frustrating.

  • ccs May 18, 2011 (3:10 pm)

    $4M is promised cost savings. Actual cost savings is something different – something I haven’t seen, and we took big hits last year both in availability of transportation AND start times in the two schools I deal with.

    And sorry to be snarky, but if Steve can’t handle it he can take some time off from his RE-ELECTION campaign. Parents: Can’t get to your job on time? Quit and run for school board

Sorry, comment time is over.